Top Hardwood Floor Finishes for Your Home

When it comes to designing your dream hardwood floor, choosing the right finish is essential, but may seem overwhelming due to the wide variety of options. A hardwood floor finish not only adds a protective layer but also enhances the overall aesthetics of your space.

In this article, we will explore the different types of hardwood floor finishes and help you make an informed decision. From water-based polyurethane to oil finishes and wax finishes, we’ll cover the pros and cons of each option. So, let’s dive in and find the perfect finish for your hardwood floors!

Key Takeaways:

  • There are three popular hardwood floor finishes: water-based polyurethane, oil finishes, and wax finishes.
  • Water-based polyurethane offers a smooth and lustrous finish, dries quickly, and is environmentally friendly.
  • Oil-based polyurethane is durable, easy to maintain, and suitable for high-traffic areas.
  • Wax finishes provide a natural look but require more maintenance and are less durable.
  • Consider factors like durability, ease of application, sheen preferences, and maintenance requirements when choosing the best hardwood floor finish.


What is a Water-based Polyurethane Finish?

A water-based polyurethane finish is a popular choice for hardwood floors due to its smooth and lustrous look. This type of finish is a liquid substance that is applied to the wood and dries to form a hard, protective coating. It offers various sheens, allowing you to choose the level of shine that suits your aesthetic preferences.

Water-based polyurethane is replacing oil-based polyurethane as one of the most sought-after finishes. One of its key advantages is its health and environmental benefits. It has low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it a safer choice for both you and the environment.

In addition to being eco-friendly, water-based polyurethane offers other advantages. It has a fast drying time, allowing you to walk on your floors within hours of application. The finish is clear and won’t alter the natural color of your hardwood floors. Furthermore, it is highly durable, providing excellent protection against scratches, scuffs, and spills.

When choosing a hardwood floor finish, water-based polyurethane is a top contender thanks to its eco-friendliness, quick drying time, clear finish, and durability. Consider its advantages and disadvantages, along with your specific needs and preferences, to make the best choice for your home.


Advantages of Water-Based Polyurethane

One of the key benefits of applying a water-based polyurethane finish is its eco-friendly nature. Unlike oil-based finishes, water-based polyurethane has low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it safer for both people and the environment.

Another advantage is the fast drying time of water-based polyurethane. Once applied, it dries quickly and becomes water-resistant once the resins have hardened. This means you can walk on your newly finished floors sooner, reducing the inconvenience of having to wait for extended periods.

Furthermore, water-based polyurethane provides a clear finish that won’t alter the natural color of your hardwood floors. This ensures that the beauty and character of the wood shine through without any added tint or yellowing. Additionally, this type of finish is highly durable and can withstand regular wear and tear, making it suitable for high-traffic areas of your home.


Disadvantages of Water-Based Polyurethane

While water-based polyurethane is a popular choice for hardwood floor finishes, there are a few drawbacks to consider. It’s important to weigh these disadvantages against the benefits before making your final decision.

One of the main drawbacks of water-based polyurethane is its difficulty in hiding flaws on the hardwood surface. Unlike other finishes that may be more forgiving, water-based polyurethane tends to highlight scratches and marks, especially smaller ones. This means that if your hardwood floor gets scratched or dented, it may be more noticeable with a water-based polyurethane finish.

Another factor to consider is that water-based polyurethane typically requires more coats compared to other finishes to achieve the desired level of protection and sheen. This can add to the overall cost and time involved in the finishing process. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure the best results.

Lastly, water-based polyurethane finishes tend to be more expensive than their oil-based counterparts. The higher cost is often due to the advanced formulation and eco-friendly properties of water-based products. If budget is a concern, you may need to factor in the additional cost of using water-based polyurethane for your hardwood floors.

In summary, while water-based polyurethane offers numerous advantages such as eco-friendliness, fast drying time, and a clear finish, it also has its disadvantages. It may not effectively hide flaws on the hardwood surface, requires more coats for optimal results, and can be more expensive than oil-based finishes. Consider these factors carefully when deciding on the best hardwood floor finish for your home or business.


Choosing Between On-site and Prefinished Floors

When it comes to finishing your hardwood floors with water-based polyurethane, you have two options: on-site finishes or prefinished hardwood floors. Both choices have their advantages and considerations, so it’s important to understand the differences before making a decision.


On-site Finishes

With on-site finishes, you can order unfinished flooring and have the water-based polyurethane finish applied directly in your home. This option allows for customization, as the finish can be tailored to your specific preferences and needs. Additionally, on-site finishes tend to have a smoother transition between each board, resulting in a seamless look.

While on-site finishes may take longer to complete, they offer the advantage of slightly more protection. With multiple coats of water-based polyurethane applied on-site, your floor will have a thicker, more durable finish. This can be particularly beneficial in high-traffic areas or homes with pets and children.


Prefinished Hardwood Floors

If convenience and time are important factors for you, prefinished hardwood floors may be the way to go. These floors come with the water-based polyurethane finish already applied at the factory, eliminating the need for on-site finishing. Prefinished floors can be installed quickly, allowing you to enjoy your new floors sooner.

While prefinished floors offer convenience, it’s important to note that they may have a slightly lower level of protection compared to on-site finishes. The number of coats applied during the manufacturing process may be fewer than what can be achieved with on-site finishing. However, with proper maintenance and care, prefinished floors can still provide excellent durability and longevity.

Ultimately, the choice between on-site and prefinished floors depends on your specific preferences and needs. If customization and maximum durability are important to you, on-site finishes may be the better option. However, if convenience and a quicker installation process are top priorities, prefinished hardwood floors can provide a beautiful and durable solution. Regardless of your choice, regular maintenance and upkeep are key to keeping your water-based polyurethane floors in excellent condition for years to come.


Oil-Based Polyurethane Finish

When it comes to selecting a hardwood floor finish for high traffic areas, durability is a key consideration. That’s where oil-based polyurethane shines. This finish is known for its exceptional toughness and ability to withstand heavy foot traffic, making it an excellent choice for busy households or commercial spaces.


The Advantages of Oil-Based Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane offers several advantages that make it a popular option for hardwood floor finishes. Firstly, its durability is unmatched, providing long-lasting protection against scratches, scuffs, and wear. This makes it particularly well-suited for areas that receive heavy use on a daily basis.

In addition to its durability, oil-based polyurethane also enhances the natural beauty of the wood, bringing out the richness of the grain and adding depth to the overall appearance of the floor. It provides a warm, lustrous finish that many homeowners find appealing.


The Drawbacks of Oil-Based Polyurethane

While oil-based polyurethane has many advantages, it is important to consider its drawbacks as well. One significant drawback is the strong odors emitted during the application process. Proper ventilation is essential to minimize the impact of these fumes.

Over time, oil-based polyurethane can also yellow or darken, which may alter the original color of the wood. This is particularly noticeable on lighter wood species. Regular maintenance and refinishing can help mitigate this issue and restore the floor’s original appearance.

Overall, oil-based polyurethane is an excellent choice for high traffic areas and offers exceptional durability. However, it is important to weigh its advantages and disadvantages against your specific needs and preferences when selecting the best hardwood floor finish for your home or business.


Wax Finish: A Beautiful, Low-Sheen Option for Your Hardwood Floors

If you are looking for a hardwood floor finish that offers a natural, low-sheen appearance, easy application, and a touch of elegance, wax finish might be the perfect choice for you. While not as durable as some other finishes, wax can provide a unique aesthetic that enhances the beauty of your hardwood floors. Let’s explore the characteristics and considerations of wax finishes for your home.


The Process

Applying wax finish to your hardwood floors is a relatively straightforward process. First, ensure that your floors are clean and free of any debris. Then, using a clean cloth or mop, apply the wax evenly in small sections, following the grain of the wood. Allow the wax to dry completely, typically within a few hours, before applying additional coats if desired. Finally, buff the waxed surface with a soft cloth or buffing machine to achieve a smooth, lustrous shine.


Pros and Cons

Wax finishes offer several advantages, including their ability to create a natural look, easy application process, and the ability to layer the wax to hide minor scuffs or scratches. Additionally, wax finishes are relatively affordable compared to other options. However, it is essential to consider the drawbacks of wax finishes. They tend to darken or yellow over time, requiring regular maintenance to maintain their appearance. Additionally, wax finishes are not as durable as some other finishes and may require more frequent recoating to protect your floors adequately.

When choosing a finish for your hardwood floors, it’s crucial to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each option. While wax finishes may not be the most durable choice, they offer a unique and natural look that can enhance the beauty of your floors. Consider factors such as the level of foot traffic in your home, your desired maintenance routine, and your aesthetic preferences to make an informed decision. With proper care and maintenance, wax-finished hardwood floors can bring warmth and charm to your space for years to come.


Shellac Finish

The shellac finish is known for providing a high-gloss and shiny appearance to hardwood floors. It creates a stunning, reflective surface that adds a touch of elegance to any space. However, applying a shellac finish can be a bit challenging and requires careful attention to detail. Due to its flammability, extra care must be taken during the installation process. If you’re considering a shellac finish for your hardwood floors, it’s important to keep in mind that this type of finish is vulnerable to water and stain spots.

In terms of aesthetics, the shellac finish delivers a glossy look that enhances the natural beauty of the wood. Its high-shine appearance creates a visually striking effect, making it a popular choice for those seeking a glamorous and luxurious flooring option. However, it’s worth noting that over time, shellac finishes tend to darken or yellow, which may impact the overall appearance of your hardwood floors.

While shellac finishes offer a stunning finish, they may not be the most durable option. They are more susceptible to wear and tear compared to other types of finishes, which means they may require more frequent refinishing. Despite these considerations, if you’re looking to create a high-gloss, sophisticated look for your hardwood floors, a shellac finish can be a great choice.


Moisture-Cure Urethane Finish

If you’re looking for a hardwood floor finish that can withstand the heavy foot traffic in commercial areas, moisture-cure urethane is an excellent choice. This high-quality finish offers exceptional durability and is specifically designed to withstand the wear and tear of busy spaces. Its glossy finish adds a touch of elegance to your floors, making them visually appealing.

However, it’s worth noting that moisture-cure urethane can be challenging to apply. It requires careful application to ensure an even and smooth finish. Therefore, it’s recommended to hire a professional flooring contractor with experience in applying this type of finish. They have the necessary expertise to achieve a flawless result.

One thing to consider with moisture-cure urethane is its high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released during the curing process. These VOCs can be harmful to your health, so proper ventilation is crucial when applying this finish. As a result, moisture-cure urethane is not commonly used in residential settings due to the potential health concerns associated with its application.

Overall, moisture-cure urethane is a top choice for commercial settings that require a glossy and long-lasting hardwood floor finish. However, if you’re considering using it in a residential space, it’s essential to weigh the potential health risks associated with its application. Consulting with a flooring professional can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your specific needs and priorities.


Penetrating Oil Sealer Finish

Looking for a hardwood floor finish that provides a natural and low-shine look? Consider the penetrating oil sealer finish. It is known for its easy application process and ability to enhance the natural patterns and hues of the wood. However, it’s important to note that this finish may not be as durable as other options, requiring recoating every few years for optimal protection. To increase its longevity, you can top it with a layer of wax, which adds an extra layer of durability and protection to your hardwood floors.

While the penetrating oil sealer finish offers many benefits, such as easy application and a natural aesthetic, it’s also important to consider its limitations. This finish is not as durable as other options, meaning it may be more susceptible to wear and tear over time. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that recoating will be necessary every few years to maintain its protective properties. However, if you prioritize a low-shine and natural finish for your hardwood floors, the penetrating oil sealer finish may be the perfect choice for you.



So, there you have it! When it comes to choosing the best hardwood floor finish for your home, you have several options to consider. From water-based polyurethane to oil-based polyurethane, wax, shellac, moisture-cure urethane, and penetrating oil sealer, each finish has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

For a durable, eco-friendly option with a clear finish, water-based polyurethane is a great choice. It dries quickly and offers excellent protection for your hardwood floors. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a cost-effective option that’s easy to maintain, oil-based polyurethane might be the way to go.

If you prefer a natural, low-sheen appearance, wax or penetrating oil sealer are worth considering, although they may not be as durable as other finishes. Lastly, shellac and moisture-cure urethane offer high-gloss finishes suitable for high-traffic commercial areas, but they have their own drawbacks to consider.

To make the right decision, take into account factors such as durability, ease of application, sheen preferences, and maintenance requirements. By doing so, you’ll be able to choose the best hardwood floor finish that not only protects your floors but also adds beauty and elegance to your space.